Editor's Note: I am most grateful to Kate Fisher, who is an expert in admissions essays with Noodle Pros, for explaining how to handle the inevitable essay portion of your child's private school admissions application. ~Rob
If your child is applying to a private middle school or high school, he or she will likely have to write an admissions essay. It is important to remember that this is not a college admissions essay, which means that the standards used to assess your child’s writing ability are lower. However, this also means that it’s much easier for admissions officers to quickly identify essays that a parent, teacher, or tutor has had too heavy a hand in.
It is extremely difficult to disguise adult involvement in an essay that is supposed to be written by a child applying to middle school or high school. You may feel uncomfortable allowing your child to submit his or her essay without reading it over. If you choose to help him or her by proofreading or editing it, remember to make sure the language, syntax, and sentence structure remain age-appropriate. No private school admissions officer expects a rising sixth grader to write as well as an award-winning novelist, let alone a college-educated adult.
The best way to ensure the success of your child’s admissions essay is to show how to choose the right essay. Most private schools ask applicants to choose one prompt from a list of several. Helping your child brainstorm which topic to write about is a great way for you to be involved without heavily editing or actually writing the essay. When helping your child select a prompt, try to gauge which topic appeals the most. If none of the topics spark excitement which happens more often than not, try to determine what kind of prompt will best help showcase your child's personality.
While the list of prompts is long, most fall under a few broader categories, which I have listed below with some prompts I have seen over the past few years.
Prompts encouraging writing about others.
Who do you admire? If you were to develop a Mount Rushmore of the 21st Century, which four individuals would be represented and why?
The world's governments have decided to put a permanently manned colony on Mars. You are part of the advisory committee planning the settlement. You may select four people to live in the colony. What characteristics or skills would you want them to have to be able to influence the new Martian society?
Tell us about a fictional character in literature, comic books, film or television that you admire. What are the traits that this individual exhibits that make them worthy of your admiration?
The first two prompts are easy to translate into a straightforward essay structure, i.e., introduction, body paragraphs for each of the four individuals, and conclusion. But neither offers the applicant the opportunity to reveal very much about him or herself. In fact, most students choose the same people - Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appear on nine out of ten essays of this ilk that I have read - or people with similar roles - Steve Jobs and Bill Gates also show up on many essays with prompts like these.
While the fictional character prompt may seem fun, students often get distracted by providing context in terms of plot and don’t fully answer the question. Try to steer your child away from topics that encourage writing about other people.
Prompts which encourage writing about you.
What is the relationship between your life in school and your life outside of school?
Tell us about your best experience in school and your best experience out of school. What made each of them the best?
Of all of the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?
What do you do in your extracurricular life that demonstrates a commitment to learning beyond the classroom?
These prompts all ask the applicant to relate his or her life in school to life outside of school. This allows the student to provide a more holistic view of who they are, not just in the classroom, but also in extracurricular pursuits. If your child knows what clubs or activities he or she wants to pursue in middle school or high school, topics in this category are a great choice.
Prompts requiring thoughtful, specific responses.
Who are you? You're writing the story of your life so far. What's the title? Why?
If your family had its own flag, what would be on it? If you had your own personal flag, would it be different from your family's flag? In what way?
Describe something you're hoping for, and discuss the obstacles or difficulties that must be overcome if this goal is to be achieved, either by you or by others.
Prompts like these can be a bit overwhelming for some students, and indeed for many adults given the almost existential quality of some of the questions in this category. It is difficult for a student applying to sixth grade to know what the title of the story of his or her life is so far. If your child chooses to write an essay on a prompt that describes who they are in the grand scheme of the world at large, make sure that the response stays specific rather than general.
Regardless of the topic your child chooses to write about, the essay is only one element of what is a highly-involved application replete with test scores, teacher recommendations, and on-site interviews. Try to present this writing assignment as a fun exercise which allows your child to showcase his or her personality, thereby standing out from the other applicants.
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What does being successful in education truly mean? It’s not just a letter on a piece of paper; a solid education means options. It means we have a choice of what to do when we graduate high school. Today, though, the sad truth is that over 30% of Americans will not have options, they will not have a choice of what to do because they won’t graduate.
For a nation that puts so much into providing exceptional education chances for our youth, the amount of students that simply do not care has become overwhelming.
In 2006, studies show that on average, less than 70% of students graduated high school. In some cities, the graduation rate was under half. Approximately 1.2 million students drop out of high school per year. It may not seem to matter to the students who do work hard, but when half of your peers have decided to give up on their education, they are also giving up on you.
As a country, we work together to get jobs done, but with so many students dropping out, less and less jobs will be able to be filled due to lack of qualification. So eventually, employers will most likely have to start accepting less qualified individuals and in turn, the progression of the nation will be reversed.
The U.S. is defiantly near the top in terms of educational opportunities. With public schooling, essentially every child has a chance to learn. We are a country rich with colleges that explore all different interests. And yet, we are not taking advantage of our chances. If people think that getting good grades and trying in middle school and high school doesn’t matter; they are wrong. It does matter, and it does impact our future. Not only do our efforts in school determine what classes we will be taking, or what colleges we can get into, but also schooling teaches us responsibility. We are taught to work hard, to stretch our minds and ask questions, to study and turn work in. What it all comes down to is that education is probably the most important thing for our futures.
In places all around the world, like the Middle East and Africa, education lacks much quality. Schools do not have funding; therefore students are left to write their lessons in the dirt, to sit in a classroom with children five years younger than them, and teachers are left will salaries less that one dollar a day. Yet they still have a passion for learning. We have all heard stories about the children in Africa who walk miles and miles just to get to school everyday so they may learn basic skills like reading and writing that many adults they know do not have. But in the U.S., school is certainly not treated at something so sacred. For the most part, it has almost become more of a chore than a privilege. Some consider it a waste of time. I can’t help but wonder what a better use of time it could be then to spend half of the day learning about all different subjects and skills that will benefit us in our future.
As students, when we don’t try, we are not only giving up on our peers and ourselves. We are giving up on our teachers as well. The same teachers that spend countless hours of their time preparing lessons, grading papers, teaching classes, and making sure all students are performing to what they are capable of. The same teachers that don’t get paid half of what they deserve. But still, they come in, five days a week, despite the attitudes of teenagers, to pass the knowledge into us that we will need in able to reach our goals. Of course, over 30% of us repay them real well. “Thanks so much teachers, for wasting such a large fraction of your life feeding us information that we decided to flush down the drain!”
As an 8th grader, I am aware that many students don’t feel like it should matter at this age because after all, colleges only really care about high school grades and credits. However, if you don’t pay attention in middle school, don’t do your work, don’t take in any of the information, how do you expect to be successful in high school? If middle school really didn’t matter, it wouldn’t exist. It is here to prepare students for high school and the studies and work that will happen there. If students aren’t responsible in middle school, there is no way they will be able to make it once they move on to 9th grade.
All over the world, there are millions of children eager to learn. Children that have hope, even though they may not even have the basic necessities of life. So I question, where has our passion gone? Why does education seem to not matter anymore? As a country that does so much to make sure that it’s students are taught well and put through good schooling, it is infuriating that students don’t take advantage of it because they don’t care, because it doesn’t matter. It does matter, and it’s time for all students to put effort into their education because the future of this country and the world relies on our generation. It’s time to step up.